How is regret important to the central ideas or themes of The Glass Menagerie ?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Regret is the crippling factor that prevents the Wingfields to move forward. The reason is because they all, at one point, had a fear that they were not able to conquer. As a result, many opportunities for improving their individual, and their family lives, bypassed them all. In all, Tom, Amanda, Laura, and even Jim cannot help but continuously look into their past for cues as to what to make of their future.

Amanda's biggest regret, although it is not directly mentioned in the play, is that she may have played a role in her husband's decision to abandon the family. As an abandoned woman, she now has to take care of two adult "children" who still have not found their ways in life. Amanda channels her regrets through Laura, who in turn, has regrets of her own.

In Amanda's case, she sees her children as potential opportunities to move the family forward. If only they got jobs, maybe they all could move away from their current situation. However, daughter Laura proves to be a weak link whose social anxiety and inability to accept herself as a normal person has cause her to even give up on the outside world altogether. To this, Amanda reacts

What is there left but dependency all our lives? I know so well what becomes of unmarried women who aren't prepared to occupy a position....Is that the future that we've mapped out for ourselves? I swear it's the only alternative I can think of !It isn't a very pleasant alternative, is it? Of course - some girls do marry!

This expression clearly denotes Amanda's regrets on how her actions could have possibly affected her children. Whatever those actions may have been.

Laura's regrets take form in her endless high school memories, particularly, in her admiration for Jim, the high school superstar. Again, the play does not use the word "regret" per se, yet, when Laura meets Jim again for the second time years later, it is clear that her biggest regret is that she never saw herself as a normal woman due to her foot condition. As a result, she never had a chance to experience what it could have been like to be someone in Jim's life.

It is through Tom that the topic of regret gains strength. Since Tom has not found himself yet, he regrets that he had presumably given up the things that he loves to do, such as writing and poetry, for a job that he hates.

You think I want to spend fifty-five years down there in that - celotex interior! with - fluorescent - tubes! Look! I'd rather somebody picked up a crowbar and battered out my brains - than go back mornings! I go!

Lastly, the regret of having left the family home in the end and pursuing his own life gnaws at Tom's conscience especially knowing that he is leaving Laura behind. He sees in Laura someone whom he should protect, yet, now he knows that regret or no regret, each individual is responsible for their own life.

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The Glass Menagerie

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